Serambi Merapi Community: Pakembinangun, Central Java

Young activists say their concern over an education system that shows little interest in teaching ethical values, traditional lifestyles or a love of nature inspired them to set up an alternative school for children. The activists set up Serambi Merapi Community in Pakembinangun village, Sleman regency in Yogyakarta, and now manage a two-hectare organic agricultural field where traditional games and plays are performed, and where the alternative program is run for groups of students.

Parents are not allowed to accompany their children, as it is believed their presence will prevent them from being independent according to Slamet Susanto.

Serambi’s chairman, Boy Rifai, said ‘ethical values’ are first taught to students, a subject he said was rarely introduced nowadays in formal schools.

“Before playing in the field or harvesting an agricultural product, for example, the children are taken to the farmer’s house to ask for permission,” Rifai said.

Knowledge is passed on through activities where children can play or enjoy food.

While eating, for example, children are asked to identify which foods in the menu are beneficial for the human body.

“So, don’t be surprised if upon coming back home from here they protest if, for instance, there are no vegetables on the menu,” Rifai said.

The program aims to build honesty in children through games — agricultural products are labeled with price tags and left unsupervised, and children are expected to buy the product using the correct amount of money.

Tolerance and harmony are also encouraged in activities.

“It is good even to have them learn just one or two of the varied values we introduce through the activities,” Rifai said.

Activists also use Serambi Merapi as a place to introduce various cultures from throughout the archipelago to children, such as the traditional way Papuan people bake food using hot stones.

Set up early this year, activists now want Serambi Merapi to be used by the wider community, allowing the Pakembinangun people to use the site to build up their incomes.

The villagers, for example, are invited to sell organic agricultural products to visiting students, while outsiders cannot sell similar products on the same site.

Products that are not cultivated organically cannot be sold there.

“All these products are from my own field that uses no chemical fertilizers,” said a Pakembinangun villager, 70-year-old Pariyem, while selling cucumbers and other vegetables on the site.

Serambi Merapi is inviting schools from surrounding regions to visit the facility for free in the first six months of its launch, in order to provide feedback.

“We are quite sure that given the benefit the students will get after visiting the educational facility here, the schools will be glad to pay the operating fees,” Rifai said.

Operational costs at Serambi Merapi are currently being covered by the Griya Kulo Nature School in Tawangmangu, Karanganyar regency in Central Java, which is run by the same group of activists.

Rifai said the greatest challenge was to get the full support of the whole community in Pakembinangun village.

In order to reach that goal, Serambi Merapi is working with various farmers groups in the region, including the dragon fruit farmers group from Ngangkruk hamlet, by offering a tour package to their plantation.

There visitors can tour the plantation, pick the fruit and enjoy it in the field after paying a fee to the farmers.

“I am glad to have them in my field and pick all the ripe fruits there,” said organic farmer Maryono after hosting the students on his farm.

Suraji, 40, a father of one of the children visiting Serambi Merapi for the second time, said his child had since become more independent.

He said he believed in teaching children ethics and a love of the environment, but often ran out of time because of his tight schedule.